cover image Learning to Swim

Learning to Swim

Ann Warren Turner. Scholastic Press, $14.95 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-439-15309-6

Using spare vignettes laid out like poetry, Turner (Nettie's Trip South) recalls the summer she was six years old, when she was sexually abused by a neighbor. Convincingly assuming a child's voice, the narrative blends Annie's routine activities such as playing with dolls and swimming lessons with darker images of the neighbor boy's transgressions (the boy ""telling me to touch him/ in a hard, breathless voice, and I didn't even know/ I could say/ no""). Because Annie lacks the vocabulary to describe what is happening to her, it is her actions that most often imply her emotions (she draws an angry picture, she brushes her teeth five times a day, she tries to hide). Turner also describes Annie's painful longing to confide in someone (she says of her father, ""I wish my words/ were smoke/ he could breathe in"") but she is silenced by fear of what the neighbor boy's might do if she tells--until Annie's mother extracts the truth. Throughout the volume, the narration shifts, sometimes addressing the reader, a few times her abuser; sometimes speaking in the immediate present and others recalling the recent past. The narrative itself may be at times disjointed, but the emotional truth comes through clearly. If older readers can get past the youth of the narrator they will likely appreciate the poetic voice and courage of the heroine. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)